Bill Duke is the legendary African American Godfather of American Cinema, who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Tribute from the Directors Guild of America as he joined the ranks of directors Stephen Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, and Clint Eastwood. But what makes Bill Duke standout from these other directors is the fact that he is a director who paved the way for African Americans in cinema beginning in the early 1970’s when Spike Lee was just a teenager. Bill is the Founder and CEO of Duke Media.
Bill Duke serves on the Board of Trustees at the American Film Institute. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has also appointed him to the California State Film Commission Board. Bill Duke served as the Time Warner Endowed Chair in the Department of Radio Television and Film at Howard University in Washington, DC. President Bill Clinton then appointed him to the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Bill Duke’s directing credits include The Killing Floor, A Rage in Harlem, Sister Act 2, Deep Cover, Hoodlum, The Cemetery Club, Coverand Not Easily Broken. Currently in postproduction are the films Black Diamonds: The Evolution of Blacks in Baseball and Dark Girls.
Bill Duke’s acting credits include Predator, American Gigolo, Car Wash, Commando, Menace II Society, Bird on a Wire, The Limey, Get Rich or Die Trying, X-Men 3, the independent film Yellow, the soon to be released Henry’s Crime with Keanu Reeves and James Caan, and The Big Bang with Antonio Banderas.
Bill Duke is a humanitarian and activist who devotes his time to charity and not for profit organizations. . He is also extensively involved with the United Nations UNAIDS mission to eliminate AIDS globally.
As film history has proven, Bill Duke welcomes the challenges of making films with a voice that needs to be heard by the world.
Bill Duke spoke about his career to the membership. He got a scholarship to Boston University. His roommate at the time was Roy Richards, the first black director on Broadway, and also Bill Duke’s mentor. Roy Richards suggested he apply to the School of Performing Arts. Bill Duke did and he got in. When Roy Richards went to Los Angeles Bill Duke went with him as his assistant, and stayed in LA. He got roles as an actor in some films and worked on a television show “Powers Town USA” and then he didn’t work for 2 years. He couldn’t find a job anywhere. So, he applied to American Film Institute (AFI) and was accepted. He had always wanted to direct and his short film received awards. He got hired as a director on Knots Landing and from there began his directing career while balancing his acting career.
While he loves being an actor and playing a role, as a director, you tell a story and you have a voice. He spoke about the importance of having management skills as a director; one must manage the time and time costs money.
“Dark Girls” his documentary just sold it to OWN, Oprah’s network. It aired on June 23, 2013. It is also on Video on Demand (VOD) and online. He did it with Kick-starter and had a specific audience in mind – women. He focused on women and their experiences with this issue to give them a voice and it’s about women’s empowerment. And, the content is global and therefore the market is global. He said there’s a $15 billion dollar skin lightening/whitening industry around the globe, (Africa, India, Asia), so he has a global market that reaches both men and women, because a lot of men in India lighten their skin so that people will think they work in offices vs. outdoors.
He is now working on another passion project, “What is a Man?”.
He spoke about the important to conceptualize content form a global perspective. Hollywood is expanding into a global market place. It’s no longer the film business; it’s the media business. While it’s a creative process, but it’s also a business. He also spoke about the importance of understanding distribution and all the outlet that are there for a film/show to get distributed.
His parting advice to the membership was to ask oneself ““where do I fit in this new landscape?”. And to make strategic alliances.